Talk:Mara bar Serapion on Jesus

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Age of Reliable Sources.[edit]

I posed a question on the Reliable Sources noticeboard with regards to my edit being reverted on account of the age of the references I used. --Mike Agricola (talk) 21:00, 17 August 2012 (UTC)

Yes, I am sure you had good intentions, but as I responded there, these sources are too old. If you get recent sources, no problem. History2007 (talk) 21:17, 17 August 2012 (UTC)

As per the discussion on the WP:RS noticeboard, I would like to request that if anyone knows of a reliable source published less than ~50 years ago that supports the statement, "Henry Tattam obtained this manuscript during a visit in 1842 to the monastery of St. Mary Deipara in the Nitrian Desert of Egypt." to add it to the article as a citation. Thanks. -Mike Agricola (talk) 00:39, 18 August 2012 (UTC)

Google "BL Add. 14658" and Tattam and will get some hits - some ok, none great as far as I saw. History2007 (talk) 00:57, 18 August 2012 (UTC)
I've made some proposed edits to the article which you can see in my sandbox. Here's a few explanatory notes:
(1) As someone noted on the RS noticeboard, the book entitled "An ancient Syriac document, purporting to be the record of the second Synod of Ephesus" turned out to be a privately published work printed by the "printers to the University", perhaps because only they were the only ones around capable of including a Syriac font in a printed work. Anyways, I supplemented that self-published citation with an official British Museum catalogue of Syriac manuscripts. It's also a 19th century publication, but it's clearly a highly reliable source despite its age. Unfortunately, it doesn't state quite as directly that Tattam discovered the Mara bar Serapion manuscript, but it does state that Tattam discovered a collection of Syriac manuscripts given to the British Museum numbered Add. 14,425--14,739, a range within which BL Add. 14658 falls. The connection is supported in the source, albeit it may not be obvious at first glance to some readers, hence the quote and explanatory footnote I appended to the reference.
(2) The British Museum catalog contains a brief description of Mara bar Serapion on page 1159, along with a quite interesting description of the other works, including a miscellany of texts devoted to philosophy, logic and rhetoric, bundled into the same manuscript volume. I didn't mention any of this contextual info. though in my proposed edit, but if others deem it sufficiently notable, a mention of this could be worked into the article.
(3) Unfortunately, my Google searches didn't seem to turn up any RS of recent publication freely available on the Web. The Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage has an entry on Mara bar Serapion (and a Google snippet revealed that it mentions Tattam too), but I couldn't find a freely available "preview" of the relevant portion. Perhaps someone with access to a university library could look into this? I also came across a bibliography on Mara bar Serapion] listing recent works that may also mention Tattam's manuscript discovery (along with other info. which may be useful for future editors of this article). But alas, I do not have access to specialized academic publications not freely available on the Web. But that said, I have no reason to dispute the 19th century sources describing Tattam's discovery, particularly when backed by an official catalogue of the British Museum. I would suspect too that any recent reliable source publications which describe the discovery would ultimately base this information on these 19th century sources too. My preference would be to strip out the "Nineteenth century records state that" part, but I can also live with it in the spirit of WP:Compromise.
(4) I moved the Cureton reference to Further reading in response to a comment by Andrew Dalby on the RS noticeboard: "Now, the early edition cited (note 2) definitely belongs in the article, but not in the footnotes. It belongs in a list of editions and translations of the text, and it is extremely useful to the reader because it links to a full text, available free. Exactly what some people are hoping for in a Wikipedia article like this." So that the statement itself remains cited, I replaced that citation with a reference (a recent one this time!) to Cureton's publication of this translation. --Mike Agricola (talk) 20:20, 22 August 2012 (UTC)

The long and short of it seems to be that you are a pretty careful editor. I have not even checked the proposed edition in your sandbox, but given your attitude, I am pretty sure it will be good. So just go for it. And could you please watch this page on a longer term basis? I am trying to reduce items on my watch list. Thanks. History2007 (talk) 20:26, 22 August 2012 (UTC)

Thanks History2007 for your positive feedback. I also mentioned this proposal on the RS noticeboard, so I'll wait a day or so to see if any of the folks over there have any additional feedback to offer. Since I brought up the issue there and a number of people have been so kind as to provide detailed suggestions, I'd also like to give them a chance to respond. --Mike Agricola (talk) 20:29, 22 August 2012 (UTC)
No worries. This document is pretty old. A few days is no big deal, and in any case, I think you know what you are doing. History2007 (talk) 20:30, 22 August 2012 (UTC)

Is there really evidence that he was a Christian?[edit]

I was a bit surprised of the lack of discussion of the subject of the article, Mara bar-Serapion himself, within this article. What little is to be found here also is slightly contradictory.

To begin with, he is depicted as a non-Christian. On the other hand, he also is quoted as stating that God (capital letter - obviously a monotheistic usage) is punishing the sins of people. In the present version, this is explained directly after the direct quotation:

In this passage the author explains that when the wise are oppressed, not only does their wisdom triumph in the end, but God also punishes their oppressors.

There is a footnote to Van Voorst at the end of the sentence. I do not have access to that book, and therefore cannot decide whether or not really Van Voorst explains this quotation as being expressed in Christian terms.

I tried to find the origin of this claim for a Christian explanation of sin and punishment in the letter. The earliest such reference seems to have been inserted here, but then was placed before the direct quotation:

Writing from prison to encourage his son to pursue wisdom, the author explains that when the wise are oppressed not only does their wisdom triumph in the end, but God also punishes their oppressors:

Therefore, it might be most appropriate to ask Ret.Prof directly whether the first insertion was intended to depend ultimately on actual analysis of the letter, or if it more reflected the potential Christian context for explaining sin and punishment which could be expected by many readers.

In the latter case, and if the analysis is unsupported by Van Voorst, I think that any explanations that Mara was referring to a monotheistic god should be removed. On the other hand, if he did make such a reference (explicitly or implicitly), then there should be a more careful explanation why Mara probably was not a Christian himself.

Actually, I would like to know a little more about him. Is he only known from this letter? Is his origins implicitly clear from his letter? Does he give any details, which would make it possible to place him more accurately in time - based on the political background? Has scolar tried to place the time more carefully, based on the handwriting, of on philological concerns? Where is the full text of the letter available? Considering that some older revisions placed him several centuries later, and that the present edition leaves a timespan of more than 200 years (of which slightly more than 10% fall within the first century), why is the article placed in Category:1st-century writers? If there is some reason or reference that makes an earlier date more probable than let us say a 3rd-century one, that should be stated!

The title of our article is not "The support for the historical existence of Jesus in the Mara Ben-Serapion letter" or anything of this kind; but this seems to be the way it is treated by some of its authors. I'm willing to grant that the passage about the king of Jews is the reason why Mara is considered to be of a sufficient encyclopaedian interest; but, even so, once the article is in existence, we also should try to give the most basic data about Mara himself, and about the letter, to the extent that it is possible. JoergenB (talk) 22:17, 29 September 2012 (UTC)

I think you have a number of valid points. I have been trying to understand him, but there is very little known about him. I even tried to get an image. His only claim to fame seems to be the "possible reference" to Jesus, beyond that there is little interest in him, it seems. Most sources say that he was not a Christian. The dates are specially vague, and scholars have no agreement on them. I think we must accept that this is a hard to date item. And it is a hard to interpret item, as the article says. And its historical value is hence questionable. History2007 (talk) 23:15, 29 September 2012 (UTC)
Just a quick note here. Some published material on the person of Mara bar-Serapion and the general socio-political and cultural context of his letter appears to exist, but it's apparently not easy to access (at least for those of us who don't currently have access to the resources and digital subscription services of a university library).
When I edited this article a couple months back, I added a link in Further Reading to a conference report entitled "The Letter of Mara Bar Serapion in Context" published in an academic journal on Syriac studies. Aside from the presentation summaries which provide some tantalizing glimpses into Mara bar-Serapion research on topics other than his allusion to Jesus, it also mentions a forthcoming book to be published by Tubingen in Mohr Siebeck's SAPERE series entitled The Letter of Mara Bar Serapion. If someone could obtain a copy of that book, it would surely offer plenty of material for expanding this article to give it a more balanced and comprehensive treatment of the topic. The following website has a bit more info and an ISBN for the book:
http://www.uu.nl/faculty/humanities/EN/Current/agenda/Pages/20091210-marabarsarapion.aspx
Unfortunately that's all I can offer for the time being, but it certainly looks to be a great resource for this article. --Mike Agricola (talk) 01:24, 30 September 2012 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── So in any case, JoergenB's point that this page is really "Mara Bar-Serapion on Jesus" may well be valid. So I think we should move the page as such and when general information on Mara becomes available, he can get a page on himself. That is the case with a few ancient writers - they have a page on themselves, then specific issues that relate to early Christianity are discussed in separate articles. History2007 (talk) 04:33, 30 September 2012 (UTC)

I would agree that the current content on this page should be moved to Mara Bar-Serapion on Jesus. However, I am also of the view that Mara Bar-Serapion himself is sufficiently notable that the present page should continue to exist, albeit reduced to a Stub. That way the invitation is left open for anyone who can access resources like the one I mentioned above to expand the Stub. Moreover, a Mara Bar-Serapion stub that links to Mara Bar-Serapion on Jesus could make it easier for someone using his name as a search term to find the latter article about his allusion to Jesus. --Mike Agricola (talk) 15:19, 30 September 2012 (UTC)
Very good idea. Consider it done. History2007 (talk) 15:28, 30 September 2012 (UTC)
By the way, Ilaria Ramelli contends that Mara lived towards the end of the first century, and that his letter has strong stoic elements and refers to agreement on that by David Rensberger "Reconsidering the Letter of Mara Bar Serapion” in Aramaic Studies in Judaism, forthcoming. I added Ramelli to the other page. History2007 (talk) 10:24, 1 October 2012 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── I agree with the split - provided there will be enough to fill the "main page" after a while. (Otherwise, we could always re-merge.)

As for my my question about the reference to (one and only) god, I thank Mike Agricola for his link supra to the Utrecht conference announcement. It did not just give that IBSN number, and titles of talks, but also provided tho quotations from the letter, one of them containing the "king of Jews" reference, and one about the vanity of all things. I suppose that these translations could be regarded as close to the best possible with present knowledge. Moreover, this text indeed mentions God (in a clearly monotheistic sense):

... For what benefit did the Athenians derive from the slaying of Socrates? For they received the retribution for it in the form of famine and plague. Or the people of Samos from the burning of Pythagoras? For in one hour their entire country was covered with sand. Or the Jews [from the killing] of their wise king? For from that very time their sovereignty was taken away. For God rightly exacted retribution on behalf of the wisdom of these three. ...

This definitely should answer that question of mine: the reference to God the retributor is Mara's own. However, it also makes it less clear to me how one knows that Mara was not a Christian, or at least rather influenced by Christian thinking. (I might have to look up more about Stoic philosophy.)

On the other hand, the ISBN is not very helpful for getting access to the book, in spite of the ISBN number. The reason is rathetr simple, and fairly absolute: As can be seen here, the book is planned not to appear before December, 2012. I agree with Mike Agricola that this book probably should solve most of our problems; it would provide a reliable source with the presently best known information, by scolars in theology and in philosophy, and hopefully by competent philologists as well. However, that would have to wait for at least a couple of months.

Another (minor) matter: In the same conference announcement, his full name is given as "Mara bar Serapion" and as "Mara bar Sarapion". Now, I know very little about Semitic languages, but this seems more similar to the usual ibn and ben constructs, and should mean "Mara, son (of) Serapion". (The two forms Serapion and Sarapion might have to do with the ephemary character of Semitic wovels - they often change, when words are declined, although the consonants surrounding them are preseved - or with the problems that Semitic script often just contains consonant markers, enabling different interpretations. However, this is just my amateurish guess.) Incidently, our articles states the same, and thus give the three words form, with non-capitalised letters in bar. Shouldn't we use one of these name forms also in the titlers of the articles, rather than the present "Mara Bar-Serapion"? JoergenB (talk) 17:54, 1 October 2012 (UTC)

You should read Ramelli's ref in the book ref I added to Mara's page. It says he was a stoic in her opinion and links to support elsewhere. There are also other sources that say he was a stoic - not that I can be bothered to add them. Please look for them. And I added the wikisource link to the text of the letter. Note that as Novak's book points out Mara's letter says "offer to our gods the greeting of praise". He was not a Christian by all accounts, but the dates are subject to debate. History2007 (talk) 18:23, 1 October 2012 (UTC)
Thanks for these links and tips!
I read through both, and also glanced through some of the associated documents in wikisource. This was rather interesting (but not very clarifying.) I make some remarks infra; I hope that some of them may be used for improving the text.
  • The wikisource text is a fairly old translation by the 19th century scolar Benjamin Plummer Pratten, and one probably should not put too much stress on its details. However, to the extent that you refer to that translation, it is IMHO definitely wrong to infer that Mara was a Gentile from the mention of "offer to our gods". Did you actually read the entire text? The word "god" appears eight times. In oneof them, indeed, "our gods" are mentioned; but look at the context: Mara is quoting his companions, which (in his absence) were crying and lamenting and complaining that they could not worship their gods. Mara does not at all state that he shares these sentiments; quite the opposite. This just depicts Mara as consorting with polytheists, not as being one.
    • Note, that this direct quotation of his friend's utterings is the only instance in Pratten's translation, where gods in plural are mentioned. On the other hand, there are 7 mentions of God in a single, clearly monotheistic sense:
  1. ...blessed God that thou, a little boy, and without a guide to direct thee, hadst begun in good earnest;
  2. When, moreover, a person has left his home, and is able still to preserve his previous character, and properly does that which it behoves him to do, he is that chosen man who is called “the blessing of God,” and one who does not find aught else to compare with his freedom.
  3. When, moreover, anything untoward befalls thee, do not lay the blame on man, nor be angry against God, nor fulminate against the time thou livest in.
  4. If thou shalt continue in this mind, thy gift is not small which thou hast received from God, which has no need of riches, and is never reduced to poverty.
  5. If, therefore, thou shalt behave with understanding, and shalt diligently watch over thy conduct, God will not refrain from helping thee, nor men from loving thee.
  6. For with justice did God grant a recompense to the wisdom of all three of them.
  7. And here also in the prison-house we give thanks to God that we have received the love of many:...
    • Thus, I think you have to agree that Pratten'stranslation depicts Mara as a monotheist - for what that is worth. Note, that he may be influenced by his belief that Mara was a Christian; read Pratten's footnote 5 to the letter:
The meaning probably is, that the maxims referred to lost their importance for him when he entered upon the new life of a Christian (so Cureton), or their importance to mankind when Christianity itself was born into the world. But why he did not substitute more distinctive Christian teaching is not clear. Perhaps the fear of persecution influenced him.
  • Pratten's opinion was not shared by all other scolar's of the time. He quotes a "Professor Nöldke" here, who indeed thought that Mara was a stoicist:
[Mara] ...notwithstanding his good-will toward youthful Christianity, was no Christian, but represented rather the ethical stand-point of the Stoicism so popular at that time.
  • Thus, I don't think that Pratten's opinion or choice of "fairly Christian" expressions in the translation should be assigned any great merit. On the other hand, there are a few other important things about the text, which indeed could be concluded from this source:
    • The text is not an original. It is preserved by Christian copyists, partly with a very clear theological agenda; and it does contain interpolations. (I do not just have Pratten's general word on that. Look at the anecdote in the last paragraph of the letter; I think that no-one could disputet that this is a later addition.) Part of their agenda was to support the Syric Church's claim ancienty, having been turned to a Christian nation already by one of Jesus's own diciples.
    • This makes my idea of being able to draw conclusions from the script style itself completely moot. (I was mislead by our article to believe that the letter was in original.) Also, Pratten and Nöldke also judge the language to be of ordinary Syriac orthography and style, which in general would indicate a later date; see Syriac language#Origins.
    • (On the other hand, both Pratten and Nöldke also seem to accept the early dating of the letter. In fact, this is not very contradictory; I get the impression that the 19th century Syriac scolars were more apt to accept the Syriac claims of antiquity; and Nöldke contributes an argument about the language being practically unchanged for houndreds of years. Again, this is their scolarly opinion, and probably fairly obsolete.)
  • Ilaria Ramelli's resumé of the Utrecht conference is quite another thing. To begin with, it was rather interesting to get a grip of what the various talks were about. The summary does seem just slightly biased; Ramelli's markedly longest entry is about a certain Ilaria Ramelli (from Milan), described in the third person, and starting by enumerating her extensive contributions to this field... My impression is that she tries to be fair, but tends to stress her own arguments in points of issue; she does not quite succeed to present a NPOV. However, with that reservation, her summary definitely has merit as a (secondary or rather tertiary) RS. I believe her, when she depicts the opinion about the dating as controversial; but also that the majority of those speakers of the conference, that concerned themselves directly with the time question, shared her opinion about an early age.
    • Interestingly, Ramelli has more or less a converse argument for the antiquity of the text than Nöldke has. She claims that a careful analysis shows that the letter is written in an older form of Syriac. Among others, the letter uses the Absolute case mor commonly than does later Syriac, she writes. (That point is partly confirmed by our Syriac language#Nouns.) She therefore thinks that the letter should revise the conventional view on what should be counted as our oldest extant Syriac texts.
Conclusions: I don't think much emphasis could be put on Pratten's translation details and analysis, one way or the other. He agrees with the quotations from the Utrecht conference in depicting Mara as a monotheist - which is not the same as a Christian. Mostly, we'll have to wait for the forthcoming book, I suppose. However, we immediately should clarify that this is not an original letter, and that the extent to which it is influenced by the scribes is unclear and debated. JoergenB (talk) 00:58, 2 October 2012 (UTC)

The identity of the monastery of St. Mary Deipara.[edit]

I just added a link from that classical name to our article Syrian Monastery, Egypt. I think I have good reason to think that this indeed is the same monastery; see Talk:Syrian Monastery, Egypt. However, I'd very much prefer some kind of confirmation of this identity from reliable sources, than the usage of the content in the article and in the links from our articles on the Peshitta. I fear that my usage of this kind of material is too close to WP:OR to be comfortable.

Thus, if anybody could resolve this issue, e.g., by means of a RS reference, I'd be rather happy (and I'd also be able to add apropriate links from the other score of our articles mentioning the manuscript collection from St. Mary Deipara). On the other hand, if you cannot resolve it, but think that my arguments on that talk page indeed passes the boundary to OR, then just revert my edit.

Best regards, JoergenB (talk) 20:06, 1 October 2012 (UTC)

Yes, may be getting close to speculation, but I don't see any reason for shivering over it. No big deal either way probably. Just say "perhaps....". History2007 (talk) 20:44, 1 October 2012 (UTC)
JoergenB, I did a bit of Google searching and it would appear that St. Mary Deipara is currently known as Deir al-Surian. This Google query will yield some reliable sources to demonstrate this: http://www.google.com/#hl=en&output=search&sclient=psy-ab&q=Deir+al-Surian+Deipara
Speaking of which, I just edited Mara Bar-Serapion to include some details about the manuscript discovery as they are relevant there too. Feel free to edit further if you would like. If you are interested in the details of how Tattam encountered the collection of Syriac works which contained Mara's letter, a fairly extensive narrative can be found in a 19th century catalogue of Syriac manuscripts in the British Museum:
http://archive.org/stream/catalogueofsyria03brituoft#page/n24/mode/1up --Mike Agricola (talk) 21:56, 1 October 2012 (UTC)
Thanks for the suggestion to google both!
Does either of you have an advise about the best name of our article about the Syrian Monastery/Deir-al-Surian/St. Mary Deipara? (C.f. the talk page of that article!) JoergenB (talk) 22:37, 1 October 2012 (UTC)
JoergenB, based upon my (admittedly very cursory) web searches and quick skims of texts on Google Books, it would seem that the name "St. Mary Deipara" was more commonly used in the 19th century. More recent texts seem to prefer either "Syrian Monastery" or "Deir-al-Surian" (which I presume is simply the Coptic or Arabic translation of "Syrian Monastery). Therefore "Syrian Monastery" seems to be preferable as the English name of the monastery. The only change to Syrian Monastery, Egypt I would advise is indicating more clearly in the lead paragraph that "St. Mary Deipara" and "Deir-al-Surian" are alternate names by which the place is known. (But as far as the Mara Bar-Serapion articles are concerned, it may be best to retain "St. Mary Deipara" because that is the way the monastery was most commonly referred to in the published literature at the time the manuscript discovery was made back in the 1840s. The accompanying Wikilink to Syrian Monastery, Egypt should clear up any resulting confusion for readers.) --Mike Agricola (talk) 23:07, 1 October 2012 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── You could have asked on Wikiproj Syria etc. Someone there may have known. But it looks like Syrians have bigger problems now... I wonder if Mara's great grandson is a captive on the bank of Tigris now... History2007 (talk) 23:16, 1 October 2012 (UTC)

Yes, that could be a reason; perhaps also extending to Egyptians (who otherwise might have something to say about the naming conventions of Egyptian places)...
Mike Agricola, one of the Google references (http://www.trismegistos.org/geo/detail.php?tm=3375) clearly settles the synonyms matter. I do not think that links should lead directly to the name we retain or change to for the monastery article; we should provide the other names as redirects, and should link to the redirect. (Recall that multiple redirects are a problem, but that single redirects are fast, and actually recommended.) JoergenB (talk) 01:11, 2 October 2012 (UTC)

Placement in time and denomination according to v. d. Horst.[edit]

As quoted by Ramelli, van der Horst places Mara in the third or fourth century, and he is inclined to believe that Mara was a Christian. Reading behind the lines, I think that Ramelli displays a rather sceptic attitude to these opinions; inter alia, she stresses quite strongly that van der Horst's opinion deviates from four other scolars at the same conference (including Ramelli herself). However, she remains polite, and she (probably at the best of her ability) tries to sum up what she thinks is Horst's main argument for Mara to be a Christian in a handful of words.

It would of course be much better to read van der Horst directly. However, pending that, I think that the sources from 2000 and 1998 which History2007 quote for stating as a fact that the letter was composed after A.D. 73 and "before the third century" (i.e., before the year 201) are made slightly obsolete. The statement in the articly should be modified. Since I do not have access to the two slightly older sources, I can hardly do them justice if I try to sum up the present state of matter.

In other words, I suspect that a correct summary would be something like: "Most modern scolars think that Mara bar Serapion wrote the letter at the end of the first or the beginning of the second century, but a few place him even as late as in the 4th century"; and similarly about the opinions about his beliefs. However, the only modern sources I've seen so far are the Utrecht conference programme and Ramelli's summary, and that doesn't suffice for conclusions on what is most common. Therefore, I would appreciate if one of you guys with access to the book sourcesmake the appropriate changes.

As regards Mara's faith, there is also the trouble that I do not know whether the argument about Mara quoting the lamentations of his "companions" really was used in the sources, or was more of an interpretation by our editors. I deny to believe that real experts in the fields - such as Ramelli - could have used this argument; if nothing else, another scolar would immedially point out that Mara is quoting others, but uses "god" in singular in the seven instances where he expresses his own opinions. On the other hand, it is possible that some of the references actually make this argument, since the authors have a broader scope; they treat Mara's letter as one argument among many, without having specific expertise about precisely these kinds of Syriac texts, or of e.g. stoicism. My guess wouldbe that Ramelli argues in a much more sophisticated and specialised manner, trying to show that Mara isn't just a non-Christian, but a Stoic (and quite possibly a Stoic of a special kind, since true specialists in a field mostly recognise small nuances that amateurs like me know nothing about).

If really some of the quoted books use the "our gods" argument (with Pratten's translation), well, we probably should report it, but just as the opinion by that author, and with the full sentence quoted - together with an explanation about how the author interpreted that quotation. Frankly, this will not be a plus for such an author; although we should present this without any judgement, I think that most serious readers have no trouble in evaluating the (lack of) value of that argument, which might lower their opinion about the professionality of the authors a bit. On the other hand, if the argument just derives from our editors having read the sources a bit too fast, we may just remove it. Finally, if the argument is there, but as a part of a more sofisticated argument (which somehow takes the fact that Mara doesn't express this as his ownview into consideration), then either we present the fuller argument, or we abstain, just noting that so-and-so has argued that Mara was a pagan (or: a Stoic; or whatsoever).

I've just made a few preliminary changes; adding the rest of the sentence to the direct quote in one place, and adding a "verify source" template in the other. Neither is satisfactory in itself. JoergenB (talk) 07:10, 2 October 2012 (UTC)

The dates statement is fine. But any suggestion that he was a Christian and said "our gods" is a tiny minority, given the many other sources. How many authors suggest he was a Christian? Then please see his and see how many professors call him pagan. If here is to be "attribution to a given author" that he was pagan, then we will have to attribute to 30 authors... which means no attribution.
But the bigger problem here is the statement "lower their opinion about the professionality of the authors". That is a "big problem" in interpreting Wikipedia policy. Wikieditors have almost no say over what a professor in the field writes, and can not judge the professor as incompetent given their own reasoning. Any and all Wiki-editors may be 12 years old, all of use here, everyone else may be 12. So I think you need to take a look at WP:RS on tha and see the author, publisher, etc. That is a key issue in your reasoning. History2007 (talk) 08:44, 2 October 2012 (UTC)
(Edit conflict) You just wrote "our gods". Does this make you a polytheist? No, of course not! You just quoted someone else using these words. The same goes for Mara, who spoke about his companions, who were weeping and lamenting their near and dears, their home, their ability to worship their gods, and so on. He implicitly contrasts this to the "stoic" attitude he recommends his son to have.
Do not argue that others are polytheists by means of a simplistic argument - "He once wrote 'our gods'" (ignoring the context) - that equally well would define yourself as one! Look at the contexts instead! Take the seven instances that Mara uses God when he exresses his own opinions; i any one of them typical for a polytheist? (Again, saying "monotheist" is not the same as saying "Jew or Christian".)
Examples of non-Christians and non-Jews who nevertheless were not polytheists include the Stoics, acording to our article, which I just glanced at; read e.g. Stoicism#Stoicism and Christianity. This fits quite nicely with Ramelli's opinion about Mara, doesn't it?
I by now only know a handful of really modern scolars on Mara by name, namely the particiopants in the Utrecht conference. Of these, seemingly only one, van der Horst, considered Mara to probably be Christian. (As you recall, the translator Pratten held the same view, but I think we could agree to disregard 19th century scolars, when there comes to the evaluation of a point like this.) I know that one of them, Ramelli held the opposite belief. (I guess that most of the others in the conference did, too; but this is just a rather indirect conclusion from Ramelli not naming them when she describes Horst's standpoint.) Thus, I do not know enough to present the existence of (at least, or perhaps even only) one leading modern expert arguing for Mara as a Christian with the right amount of weight, and ask you to do it. JoergenB (talk) 09:43, 2 October 2012 (UTC)
Yes, I think a tiny minority may think he was a Christian. Almost all sources say pagan, and the question of his being a ploy/mono is subject to discussion. And by the way that conference is not the end of the world, can not be the only source. But again, what "I think" has the same value as what "you think". None. We can only use refs, our personal opinions have no value. I will try to sketch on the Mara page in a day or two, or please sketch it there, where it is "about him" not his letter. Thanks. History2007 (talk) 09:53, 2 October 2012 (UTC)
I of course do agree with you: Our personal opinions are not important. (Besides, I'm not decided in my own opinions.) I also find it likely that Mara more often is considered as a non-Christian by scolars.
However, this is not decided by a quick google count. You also need to evaluate the search results, at least sampling them. I hope that you will agree with me in this, especially as this time a simplistic googling gives the opposite result from what you thought.
I followed your google search suggestion, which yielded 320 hits for mara+serapion+pagan. However, just as a check, I replaced "pagan" with "christian",, and found that 1440 "sources say Christian". If you just count the numbers, without looking at the contexts where the words appear, you could end up noting that "calling Mara a Christian is 4.5 times more common than calling him a pagan".
This would be a rather big mistake, though. I glanced through the lists of the 10 first hits in both lists, and followed some of the links. I found that most of these hits - on both lists - consider Mara a non-Christian. The trouble is that the text often seems to state something like "Mara bar Serapion was not a Christian", and then the Google search engine finds mara+serapion+christian and registers a hit.
In fact, the very first one of the 1400 "supports for Mara as Christian" books was Jesus outside the New Testament' by Robert E. Van Voorst. Google reported a hit, including the sentence
"That he was not a Christian is suggested by his failure to mention explicitly the name of Jesus or Christ..." (Google's bold face).
The converse misrepresentation also occured in the search you suggested; and in this way I found another reasonable article source for the "minority view". One of the first 10 hits for mara+serapion+pagan was to a book by Antigone Samelios, Alienation: The experience of the eastern Mediterranean (50-600 A.D.), which made a reference to a (scolarly) article by K. McVey, A fresh look at the letter of Mara Bar Sarapion to his son, within a book. The quoted sentence, from V Symposium Syriacum 1988 (ed. D Lavenant, OCA236, Rome, 1990), p. 262... On p. 271 therein, as quoted, McVey had written that
Serapion was "a Christian posing as a philosophically educated pagan admirer of Jesus and his followers," (c. third-fourth century)
Again, the google search missed that the claim was negated, this time by "posing as". Of course, the quotation places McVey as firmly in the minority "Mara was a Christian" camp as the quotation by Van Voorst, places him in the "Mara was a non-Christian" one.
McVey published in a context dedicated to studies of Syriac texts. I found a reference to his articles also in one of the other hits (this time by a "Mara was a non-Christian" adherent, who was quoting a colleague with a diversing opinion). I therefore think it is reasonably to mention this togetner with van der Horst, and one other useful example among the twenty hits I inspected. In the mara+serapion+christian search I found an item in a more "theological" book. This was the second volume in a Greek Orthodox run book series from Massachusets, seemingly with ecumenical aspirations; they invite Catholic and Protestantic scolars to contribute, in their "Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History" side by side with Orthodox ones. In the second volume, Apocalyptic thought in early Christianity (ed. Robert S. J. Daly; Baker Academic, in 2009), there was an article by Ute Possekel: Expectations of the End in Early Syriac Christianity (pp. 160-173), where Mara is given as an example showing that
some early Syriac Christians councelled wisdom and patience, rather than casting their situation into an apocalyptic framework.. ..letter (probably composed in the third century).
However, these two were the only useful "Mara was a Christian" hits among these twenty, in my judgement. (There were also two hits for "Jesus didn't exist" books, but I didn't find them very useful here.) Most of the first mara+serapion+pagan hits indeed depicted Mara as a pagan, and a substantial part of the first mara+serapion+christian pages either depicted Mara as a non-Christian. (Some of these seemed rather 'apologetic', but some were in rather scolarly contexts.)
Apart from the sampling statistics and the references to the "Christian Mara" camp, I think there is one good thing from this Google exercise. We can see that there are many more scolars calling Mara "not a Christian" than those calling him a "pagan". Probably, scolars of antiquity mostly do not reason in this "dualistic" term, but distinguishes people as belonging to this or that philosophy or faith, not just as "Christian, Jew, or pagan". Thus, it would be better to say that the majority considers him "a non-Christian stoic" than "a pagan".
I'm afraid I won't have time to do as careful searches for a while, but I think I learned a bit from this - not the least that it can be a bit hard to distinguish ancient Christians and stoics just from looking at quotations where they speak about a single god. I also got the Syrian Monastery, Egypt problem settled. I'lltry to incorporate the few "Mara Christian" references, if you don't (and don't mind); but otherwise I'll have to drop this for a while.
Best regards, JoergenB (talk) 16:41, 3 October 2012 (UTC)

'New Law'[edit]

The thing that strikes me with the possible identification of the Jewish King with Jesus is the 'new law' that is mentioned. It suggests to me the "command" or "law" or Jesus is most famous for: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:31 - KJV). More or less the same idea is presented in John 13:34 (KJV): "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." I suppose it could also refer to the New_Covenant. It doesn't prove anything about who Mara bar Serapion was referring to, but it does seem to fit anyways. — Preceding unsigned comment added by TrnsltLife (talkcontribs) 08:24, 20 August 2013 (UTC)


On Bias in the Article.[edit]

This article is noticeably biased. A casual reading would see the letter as evidence for the historical Christ, when it is clearly not. The method employed has been quite unscholarly in that it attempts to interpret the facts to fit a wished-for conclusion. I cannot see how "their wise king" can be anything other than ambiguous.

It is clear that many would very much like Mara bar Serapion to be of a definite religion, preferably Christian, and almost all have pre-supposed that the wise king of the Jews is Jesus for which there is a lack of evidence. I quote an earlier comment in this “Talk section”:

“On the other hand, he also is quoted as stating that God (capital letter - obviously a monotheistic usage)”

Hebrew does not have capital letters. Therefore it is far from obvious, in fact it is erroneous. Whoever translated and wrote “God” in English made the similar unwarranted assumption that Mara bar Serapion was talking about Yahweh: it could have been any local god.

In reading the complete letter, I was struck by

1. the fact that the other two people referred to are Socrates (470/469 BC – 399 BC) and Pythagoras (c. 570 BC – c. 495 BC). It is clear that Mara bar Serapion, an educated man: he also mentions Darius, Polycrates, Achilles, Agamemnon, Priam and Archimedes (all from the then distant past) as well as the god Palamedes. Mara bar Serapion is willing to delve deep into history that he has studied to find examples.

2. Many Biblical kings have been killed by the Jews, and if we wish to follow Biblical sources, Christ was condemned by the Jews but killed by the Romans.

3. The linking of the Destruction of the Temple - Siege of Jerusalem, 70CE and the Crucifixion, c.35 CE is a bit of a stretch.

4. As Mara bar Serapion refers to the Jews in the third person, it is probably that he is not Jewish, so his idea of a “wise king” may not be a Jew’s idea of a wise king, rather someone who espoused ideas that Mara bar Serapion approved of.

5. Mara bar Serapion writes: "What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king?... He lived on in the teaching which he had given." Were Mara bar Serapion a Christian, he would have known the answer to the question, and would have mentioned, in the second part, the Resurrection.

6. I suspect the the date of the letter to be later rather than earlier: “the Jews, brought to desolation and expelled from their kingdom, are driven away into every land.” There were two Exiles and many other wars but, even assuming that Mara bar Serapion, who knows history, is referring to the destruction of the Temple in 70CE, it is clear that much time has passed since then. The Jews are scattered and he knows they are in many other lands. He is referring to something that happened a good while earlier. GaryGMason (talk) 01:40, 21 January 2014 (UTC)

The point of this is what the sources say about the topic. It is because of the idea that he may be talking about Jesus that has attracted so much interest in this document. This is why this article is written this way. The language used is Syriac language not Hebrew, but the same lack of capitals applies, but that does not matter as it is the usage in English that is relevant. Graeme Bartlett (talk) 10:43, 18 January 2015 (UTC)